Saturday, August 26, 2017

Crypt of the Necrodancer - Unfinished Playthrough Review

Great concept, great music, great gameplay - SO WHY DO I SUCK SO MUCH AT IT?!

That's my short and sweet review of Crypt of the Necrodancer, a game I was gifted by a good friend of mine but took ages to get around to. That was mostly because I had heard it was pretty difficult and I felt I needed to be mentally prepared to put in the effort needed to advance anywhere. That, and that it had a rhythm-based gameplay. I was the girl who did everything backwards and forgot where I was whenever we did anything remotely rhythm-requiring in P.E or music class. I wanted to play the drums, but they took me off them because I just couldn't manage to do two things at once (let alone four things at once!). Same thing with the piano and hey, pretty much any intrument requires that you use both your hands simultaneously and stay in rhythm (they put me on singing, which I guess I am the least awful at).

Isn't it weird though, I thought, that I can do these advanced raid healing combinations - moving from fire, timing cooldowns, targeting AND typing - yet I can't get any other kind of timing in life right? Anecdotally that had me thinking about designing a program that would let you play music like a video game. I'm not thinking AudioSurf where you react to a track that already exist, but rather a game that would let you create music by playing it. There, someone go make it, earn the big bucks and credit me for it.

Back to Crypt of the Necrodancer though. It doesn't let you create music by playing it, but I was instantly intrigued by the awesome intro-tune, and the soundtrack was a gift that just kept on giving with every stage I tried. I did prefer the snazzier tunes over the slower ones but there were no duds for sure.

Visually it's great too. It has the indie game retro pixel graphics so common nowadays, but I don't really tire of it, especially not the striking colorfulness employed in CotN. I rarely found myself confused as to what I was looking at, which is basically all I need from graphics. I love the fact that a lot of the enemies were also dancing to the music and the levels had just enough touch of looking like dance floors without taking it too far either.

So CotN is rhythm-based, which means the basic idea is that you need to move in time with the rhythm of the music to be able to deal damage to the enemies. When I first read about it I was very intimidated because of the above-mentioned lack of skill in the rhythm department. I can ease the minds of anyone else worried about failing miserably at the core concept though, it is fairly easy to learn. Problem for me was, it is just as difficult to master as you might imagine.

Fortunately the game allows you to gain equipment to make your journey easier. There are all kinds of things, most of them typical for rogue-likes. Items that increase your visual radius, your damage, your health, that give you health. Weapons with different features, that can be thrown, shot or have more reach. Unfortunately, like any rogue-like, you don't get to keep any when you die. You can improve on your characters health but otherwise you pretty much start from scratch each try. There are also many different characters to unlock, each change the playstyle in some way, basically acting like game modes. One character you start out with even lets you play the game rhythm-free, just like an ordinary rogue-like, so there you have that problem solved if that is your main worry.

Never made it this far...

I made it to world 2 without much trouble but for the life of me I can't get further than that. Most enemies except the most basic ones have some rhythm-based trick to them and that's where I fail. If they're not stationary or not paying attention to me I am basically guaranteed to take damage because I make the same mistakes in the game as I do when I try to time things IRL - I get it wrong. A lot of it is like a choreographed dance - you move two steps forward, one step back to avoid an enemy hit, one step forward to hit it, one step back again and one step forward to finish it off. Or maybe you move four steps forward to hit it because it's a slow enemy and then you have to remember that on the fifth beat it'll strike you. And so on. The problem for me was never what to do with each enemy, I learned their trick fast enough. The problem was simply to execute it.

So would the game be impossible for a rhythm-challenged person like me? Well, no. I don't think that. It just requires a lot more time and concentration, things that I am unfortunately not known for having a lot of patience with. I play games to relax, not to get frustrated and irritated with my inability! But I really liked CotN. So now I am debating whether I will feel it's a failure if I play the game with the rhythm-free character instead?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Was In The Fjäll (And Survived)!

I survived a week in the mountains! And my son survived a week at grandpas. Everything went fine, like I knew it would. And the trek was every bit of horribly awesome that I knew it would be. I did learn some new things about myself as well, and that's always cool.

Funny thing is, I had probably stressed more about actually getting to the trek with all the things I needed way more than how I would deal with the actual trecking. I figured, once I was there things would work out, as long as I remembered to bring everything! This meant a 8 hour train ride with a 3 year old, backpack, two duffel bags and pram. Everything went fine though, as the only real issue is getting in and out of the train with all that stuff. Here's a riddle for you - do I leave the 3 year old alone/unsupervised in the train or alone/unsupervised on the platform while I unload bags and pram? Unsupervised because there were a thousand other people getting on and off the train at the same time, so a small child was impossible to keep in eyesight. I had spoken very sternly to him about the importance to listen to me, especially since he's in a phase where he loves just running off. This, and remembering to bring all the gear I needed, were probably the two things that worried me the most. But fortunately, most of the time there will be at least someone who takes pity on you so I got some help dealing with the bags while I dealt with the kid. The trip went just fine.

We walked the red line

I got up to Abisko on the Sunday and met up with my mom and her boyfriend who were going to guide the group. Basically the first thing they tell me is that we're going to have to completely repack my bag. Partly because the weather was turning out to be significantly better than expected, and partly because I had packed some needless crap like a deck of cards. I had to leave some clothes (and food, more about that shortly) and other nicknacks behind and the bag still weighed in at 18kg, which for comparison is roughly a third of my body weight. "No problem" I thought. That's what the son weighs and I carry him around all the time. Well, turns out I was wrong about that.

I slept in a 6-people dorm room, but fortunately no one else was there so I got it all for myself. We started walking the day after, and eventhough we were going to be a group of ten people, me and three others (one of which was my mom) did an early start because one guy had twisted his ankle and wasn't sure he could walk at all. We figured if we started walking before everyone else we could walk slower. Everything went fine and we made it to our planned campsite without a hitch.

I was completely ruined though. My feet were in agony. Did I mention I have never done proper trecking before in my life, and especially not while carrying any kind of equipment weighing anywhere near 18kg? Probably in my previous post. Fortunately exhaustion is all it was, no blisters or breaks and after some pain killers the aches soon went away. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes didn't.

I think I also mentioned in my previous post that the week before had been very rainy and cold, and in fact the entire season had been unusually rainy and cold. Hence us being told to bring warm clothes. Then suddenly, pretty much exactly the day we start walking, that part of Sweden gets the warmest and nicest weather of the entire country. I was sweating so much. This also meant that the mosquitoes started hatching and because it had been so rainy and cold before everything and everywhere was nice and moist for them to thrive. I knew there were going to be a lot of mosquitoes, but I couldn't fathom just how many and how big they were. OH LAWD THE MOSQUITOES! Throughout the week they were easily one of the biggest nuisances and drawbacks of the entire trip. I got bitten probably about 30-40 times a day and had some sort of reaction to them which made my legs look like I had gotten some modern version of the bubonic plague. I would show pictures but honestly, it's too unappetizing. The only positive thing I can say about that whole ordeal that fortunately it didn't itch very much. Or maybe I was in too much pain from the walking to notice.

Truly though, the body ache was fine. I was prepared to be tired and in pain and I was. In fact, I was a lot less tired than I thought I would be. Overall it wasn't particularly strenouous, but definitely demanding. Eventhough Kungsleden, King's Road, as it's called is one of the most trecked parts of the Fjäll it's still no walk in the park. You constantly have to keep track of where your feet are so as to not misstep and some of the ascending bits were extremely exhausting. Other than that I was happily surprised that I didn't find it more straining. And like I mentioned I learned some other interesting things as well.

For instance, getting dirty and not being able to clean myself properly was probably the worst part of the trip. It even beat out on the mosquitoes (which to be fair could be handled fairly well with repellant and clever covering-up). I only had two sets of clothes with me. One for walking and one for camping. Mom had warned me that the walking clothes would get sweaty and gross but I thought I wouldn't be too bothered. I was. Eventhough you try cleaning as much as possible you still have to slip into the dirty clothing as soon as you start walking again so you just never feel clean. Bathing in the lakes is near impossible due to the extremely cold temperatures. The water all comes pretty much directly from melted snow, so it's only around 10 degrees, if that. Just washing your hands in it hurts (it's very pleasant to drink though). I am definitely no clean-freak, so this bothered me a lot more than I thought it would. Maybe it just takes some getting used to.

Secondly, I thought I would get ravenously hungry from all the extra excercise. This didn't happen at all. I had pretty much the same appetite, and mom had instructed me to bring high-calorie food to make sure I got the energy I needed without putting more food in my tummy. It makes sense really, my stomach doesn't get bigger just because I use more energy, I just need more energy.

Speaking of food, I will promote dry-freezed food as some of the most convenient and tastiest food I have ever eaten. If it wasn't so expensive I'd have it for lunch at work every day. Just pour in hot water, stir and wait and presto - delicious meal. It beats the microwave-food we have in Sweden by a mile. The fact that all the other food I had brought turned out to be pretty boring and a disappointment might have led to me loving these meals even more. I had planned to have müsli for breakfast and lunch and dry-freeze food only for dinner (because like I said, it's expensive as hell). That müsli really turned out to be a dud though. Firstly I got sick of it on the first day. Secondly, I had brought about 2 kg too much of it (because I had anticipated I would eat so much more than I did). On the fourth day of walking I poured out about a kilo, and I also left almost a kilo behind to begin with. I had prepared 14 "portion sized" bags, I left 4 behind even before we started walking, I poured out 5 halfways through the treck and I still had two bags left at the end of the walk. The "portions" I had prepared turned out to be about three times too big. That was probably my biggest mistake of the trip, fortunately probably my only real one. For a first time I am ok with that.

Would I do it again? I remember thinking, while walking and sweating and swatting mosquitoes, that "hell no!". Not because I didn't have fun, I had almost nothing but fun. The group was great, the scenery was great, I got to spend time with my mom and I do love to be out and about. Right at that moment it just felt like I wouldn't do it that way. I kept thinking, that if all I do is walk all day, when am I going to spend time just enjoying all the beauty I am being surrounded by? But after a while I realized that walking has to be part of the fun for you, and if it isn't then well... you're going to have a bad time. I think one week was a bit excessive for me. Not in terms of effort, but in terms of convenience. I wasn't ready to be without a shower and clean clothes for that long (using the outdoors as a toilet worked fine however /tmi). I can see myself doing shorter 2-3 day trips or maybe renting a cabin somewhere and do daytrips from there though.

All in all it was definitely the awesome experience I had hoped it would be and I am especially happy that none of the things I had worried about became a problem. I am really looking forward to bringing my son and boyfriend on a trip like this (albeit a lot more kiddie friendly). Speaking of kiddie friendly, we did meet a lot of people who had brought their kids along which I think is awesome as long as you're properly prepared. The most hardcore one of all though was about halfway through our trip and several kilometers from the closest cabin - we had just set up tent for the day, it was mid-afternoon, when a guy walks past us. He's carrying a toddler, about 1 year old, on his back, he's holding a girl, maybe 7 years old, in his hand, and has a boy of about 10 years running behind them. I was quite concerned for them seeing them walk off in the distance, and I hope they did ok. That was a guy who really wanted to go on a hike and didn't let three little children stop him, cool.

So that's that done, back to video gaming!